SunRise B&B Refuses Service to Visually Impaired Man Because of his Service Dog

My dad let me know about a story I missed last week, about a Toronto couple being turned away from a bed and breakfast in Prince Edward County, Ontario because of the service dog traveling with them. The owners of the Sunrise B&B in Bloomfield, Ontario are, according to CBC.ca, “upset about what happened,” but stand by their decision to insist that Jill Greenwood, her husband David (who is visually impaired), and his guide dog Romy, find alternate accommodation.

I have thoughts.

Content Note: Ableism, human rights violation, expectation of accommodation

Golden labrador guide dog lies on the grass, alert with head up. Dog's black harness is visible. Just off to the side, we see the ower's legs in blue jeans, and their white cane. Keyword: SunRise B&B

Image Description: Golden labrador guide dog lies on the grass, alert with head up. Dog’s black harness is visible. Just off to the side, we see the ower’s legs in blue jeans, and their white cane.

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Legally Speaking

John and Joan Stenning, the proprietors of the Sunrise B&B, say that the Greenwoods didn’t tell them them that they’d be coming with a service dog. They say that had they been told, they would have informed the Greenwoods that their “no pets” policy includes service animals.

That set off alarm bells in my head (as I’m sure it does for many readers) because most businesses know better than to try and bar a service animal.  However, in Ontario, a number of factors have collided to make the bed and breakfast industry a strange little pocket of the hospitality industry where lawyers can apparently argue that the Stennings didn’t break the law by denying service on the basis of a service animal:

However, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario did confirm that denying service to some because of their service animal violates the Ontario Bill of Rights, so I can’t see how how the Stennings or their lawyer can argue that they’re in the right.

Let’s unpack this a little more.

Public vs Private Space

I don’t know what the law has to say the status of your house as private space once you decide to rent rooms in it. But it seems to me that once you decide to open a business that lets the public into your life like that, you give up some of the right that you have to pull the “private space” card. I presume that no one held the Stennings at  gunpoint and demanded that they open a B&B. Anyone going into that business has to know that while they definitely have the right to set boundaries (within reason) about what guests can do, they also can no longer do exactly as they want in their home, all the time.

They may have to change behaviour to reflect that other people are in the house (keeping music and TV volume low, shorter showers, ensuring public gathering areas are always tidy.)

They may have to meet safety standards that they didn’t before.

Human rights standards need to be met. The Greenwoods aren’t interested in taking this to court, but maybe the next people with service dogs will be. The Stennings were just a step from violating the law under the AODA, and, if I understand the pending legislation correctly, would be in the wrong were it currently law:

(2)  No person, directly or indirectly, alone or with another, by himself, herself or itself or by the interposition of another, shall,

  (a)  deny to any person occupancy of any self-contained dwelling unit; or

  (b)  discriminate against any person with respect to any term or condition of occupancy of any self-contained dwelling unit,

for the reason that he or she is a person with a disability who is keeping or is customarily accompanied by a service dog, or who requires the accompaniment of a support person or the use of an assistive device to assist them with their service dog.

(Lawyers can feel free to tell me how I’m wrong, because the Stennings’ lawyer thinks I am…and Lord knows I’m no lawyer…)

And let’s not forget, they apparently violated the Ontario Human Rights Code.

If you don’t want to keep your home space private and not have business law affect it, don’t choose to run a business in your home.

And even if they weren’t in the wrong, or their behaviour had little chance in the near future of putting them in the wrong if repeated…what has refusing the Greenwoods service at the SunRise B&B got them? A bunch of negative publicity all over the internet – at least four different news articles, not including my blog post, plus the bad reviews on Facebook and the B&B listing sites.

I wonder if it was worth it.

Best for the Stennings and all other B&B owners who’d prefer to discriminate against those that use service animals to start thinking about how they’re going to deal with this issue, because mark my words…it won’t quietly go away.

Business Needs to be Business at the SunRise B&B

And if the Stennings and other B&B proprietors don’t like that idea…well, it’s really too bad.

People who rely on service animals aren’t doing so to be difficult. They have the animals because they’re disabled and the service animal helps them to function in society. Guide dogs in particular (like Romy) are expensive, highly trained, and they have papers to show they’ve been trained.

Denying someone service because of their guide dog is as bad as denying service (in an accessible building) to someone who uses a wheelchair, over concerns about the dirt that the chair will track in or that other guests will be disturbed by the sound of the elevator or find the electronic doors to be too slow to open and close, etc.

I admit that I don’t know what it takes to clean up a B&B thoroughly after a service animal has stayed there for a night or two.  But obviously other B&Bs manage it , because there are plenty of them in the US, and its Americans with Disabilities Act *does* require many B&Bs (there are exceptions, based on number of rooms to rent and whether the proprietor lives on premises) to accommodate people with service animals.    If a proprietor can’t manage whatever cleaning needs to be done, or can’t afford to hire help or someone to do it for them, then instead of painting disabled people and their service animals as a burden they shouldn’t be expected to shoulder, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the B&B business.

No other business owners in Ontario gets to pick and choose which pieces of accessibility legislation they feel like following – they have to accommodate disabled people. If added cost is involved, it’s a cost of doing business in Ontario.

Expectation of Accommodation

David Greenwood says he can’t remember whether he told the Stennings that he’d be traveling with Romy. Over and over again in the comments sections on media accounts of this story, I saw people saying that he should have made sure the the Stennings knew, in part because the “No Pet” policy for the SunRise B&B was posted on their website. To them I say:

And, as Kim Sauder said over at her blog, “Crippled Scholar”:

“It’s bad enough that systems aren’t in place to accommodate disabled people without advance warning (thus giving people an excuse to fall back on when a space isn’t accessible) but to suggest that we should have to announce our presence in situations we weren’t even expecting to require accommodations is absurd.”

Perhaps (and I realize I’m only speculating) that’s why David Greenwood can’t remember whether he mentioned he had a service animal when he made a reservation at the Sunrise B&B: it’s relatively difficult in 2017 to find a business that won’t accommodate a guide dog like Romy, that provides support because of a documented disability and has all the papers to prove it.

Perhaps he wasn’t thinking that much about it because he assumed that the Stennings, like most business owners in Ontario, know that you can’t deny service based on use of a service animal, and didn’t expect to have to identify himself in advance as disabled in order to receive accommodation.  After all, it’s also just a bad business decision to get embroiled in this sort of thing. When business owners try to bar people on the basis of needing a service animal – surprise! – it often makes the news.

As blatant ableism sometimes does.

Bottom Line

This was an unfortunate situation all around. Here are the takeaways as I see them:

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Disabled Woman Beaten After Becoming Confused at TSA Checkpoint

June 30th should have been a really great day for Hannah Cohen. The 19-year-old woman was on her way home to Chattanooga, after having radiation treatments and surgery to remove a brain tumour at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. According to the Associated Press, the treatment she received at St. Jude left her “limited in her ability to talk, walk, stand, see and hear”, but she was medically cleared to fly home with her mother.

Content Note: Ableism, Violence, Assault by Authority Figures, Lack of Accessibility and Accommodations, Unjust Arrest, Airline Travel Issues

A white circular sign with a bold red border. The sign says, says "Stop: Security Check" in black block letters. Keyword: Hannah Cohen

Image Description: A white circular sign with a bold red border. The sign says, says “Stop: Security Check” in black block letters.

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While going through a security checkpoint at the Memphis International Airport, Hannah Cohen set off an alarm. The TSA agents and airport police manning the checkpoint wanted to do additional screening, but Hannah became confused and anxious. WREG Memphis reported:

“‘…she was reluctant — she didn’t understand what they were about to do,’ said her mother, Shirley Cohen.

Cohen said she tried to tell agents with the Transportation Security Administration that her 19-year-old daughter is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed and easily confused — but she said police kept her away from the security agents.

The confused and terrified young woman tried to run away, her mother said, ‘and agents violently took her to the ground…she’s trying to get away from them, but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor,’ Cohen said. ‘There was blood everywhere.'”

Hannah Cohen and her family are suing the TSA, the Memphis Airport, and the Airport Police, alleging that she was discriminated against because of her disabilities and that there was a failure to provide proper accommodations for her during the screening.

TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz said about the incident:

“Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.”

Well, it’s good to know that they can call this line, not that they must. This is an important point, and it’s also important to remember that the TSA itself said “can” instead of “must”. It’s in line with information on the TSA website about the screening process for disabled passengers. The website explicitly says in the section devoted to each kind of disability that a TSA disability card or medical documentation can be presented to the TSA agent at the checkpoint and the disabled traveller can expect accommodation – nowhere does it say that prior arrangements have to be made.

That’s one important point. I think that there are three more to be made here:

Expectation of Accommodation

Forget that the TSA website lists what accommodations the agency can provide for a variety of disabilities without the requirement that disabled travellers call in advance of the travel date and discuss their needs – even if it didn’t, in a country that has had federal legislation in place for over 25 years requiring businesses (including government-funded services) to make the required accommodations so that disabled people can access their services, one would expect that TSA agents would be trained in how to deliver services in a fully accessible manner. As Kim Sauder said over at her blog, “Crippled Scholar”, disabled people should not be required to announce themselves in advance so that proper accommodation can be made available – it should just be available.

Granted, some people do have very specialized needs that require more accommodation than usual, and in those circumstances sometimes it is advisable to call a business ahead of time. However, that isn’t the issue here. Presumably, since Hannah Cohen has been making this trip to Memphis for treatment for 17 years, she and her mother presented either the TSA card or necessary documentation to explain the need for what must was likely already a checkpoint experience that required some level of accommodation; even if they didn’t, Hannah would have presented as someone with at least an obvious physical disability. It’s reasonable to expect that TSA agents have training in how to work with someone whose noncompliance is coming along with signs of confusion or overwhelm (particularly if there are signs of other disability or a caregiver with the person is telling them why) – the TSA website says that accommodation can be expected for (by name) Alzheimer’s, dementia, aphasia, brain injury, autism, and intellectual disability. Accommodations include, according to the website, not separating the person from travelling companion and opportunity to inform the TSA agent about the best way to approach and conduct the screening.

Once Hannah Cohen started to become anxious about additional screening, these accommodations were denied, escalating the situation and resulting in her assault, arrest, and a night in prison.

Nowhere on the website does it say, “The TSA may deny accommodation at its discretion.” Imagine the shitstorm if it did. That would be breaking the law.

What happened to Hannah Cohen was illegal as well as disgusting. Train your agents to do what you’re telling the public that you’ve trained them to do, TSA.

Accommodation, Exception, and Understanding

The TSA website is also careful to say that while it accommodates the needs of disabled people, disabled people will still have to screened. Fair enough.

And Hannah Cohen did set off an alarm, so they wanted more information. Fair enough.

What’s *not* “fair enough”, and not even remotely productive from the TSA’s point of view, even if the agents haven’t been provided with the proper training, is their and airport police’s insistence on escalating a situation where a multiply disabled individual is obviously confused and agitated by the steps that need to happen next in the screening. Especially when there’s a caregiver there that the person trusts and that can assist with the process.

There’s no need for TSA agents to assume that every disabled person who goes through the checkpoint must be cognitively disabled because of the presence of the physical disabilities – long-time readers know that this is one of my pet peeves.

But in Hannah Cohen’s particular situation, there was also no need to assume, when her mother was there to verify, that her multiple disabilities didn’t mean that was perhaps also something that prevented her from understanding what was going on. It should be important to the TSA that passengers, disabled or non-disabled, understand the processes at checkpoints and why certain requests are made of them – not just to minimize anxiety for all passengers in transit (travel is stressful enough and *anyone* can lose their temper and become agitated when under enough stress), but because people have rights and responsibilities as airline travelers going through a checkpoint and need to understand them if the process is to move smoothly.

Even disabled people, TSA.

When I did rights training with intellectually disabled people, I used every tool that I could to help them to understand their rights and responsibilities. The TSA, trying to do their job by doing enhanced screening with Hannah Cohen, had a terrific tool at their disposal – not only could Hannah’s mother have acted as a calming influence in an unfamiliar situation, she could have been the person that helped to allay Hannah’s confusion about what was going on enough to get her to cooperate, give the agents what they wanted, and get the whole thing ended without incident.

But the airport police separated them, denying an accommodation that the TSA said it could provide and needlessly escalating an already stressful encounter. Congrats on a job well done, officers – look where it got you.

This Shouldn’t Have Happened to Hannah Cohen…or to Anyone

The media is outraged that this happened to a disabled teenager.

It should be outraged that this happened to anyone.

This “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is sickening. Even if Hannah Cohen had been a non-disabled person, her only “crime” was that she refused to comply with a TSA request. They didn’t have proof that she was dangerous, or even had intention of doing anything illegal, but for that she was tackled and had her head bashed against the floor until her face was battered and bloodied. She was then arrested, dragged out of the airport, booked, and spent a night in prison.

The fact that Hannah Cohen is disabled adds another level of complexity to the story, but the ultimate message would be the same if she was non-disabled: This is not the way that *people* should be treated. Not disabled people. Not non-disabled people. Not anyone.

Shame on the TSA agents, the airport police, the Memphis police, and everyone involved in the events that put Hannah Cohen in jail on the night that she should have been celebrating the end of her cancer treatment.

Hannah Cohen is suing for $100 000. If I was her, I’d be asking for a hell of a lot more.

 

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Thoughts on “How Do You See Me?”

On Tuesday I dropped into Twitter to see what people were seeing about Primary Tuesday, and got distracted immediately by a discussion that noted disability writer and advocate David M. Perry was involved in. I jumped right in uninvited, because apparently that’s the kind of Twitter user I’ve become. I felt quite strongly about the topic once I investigated, though, which was this year’s Down Syndrome Awareness Day (March 21) video from Italian Down Syndrome advocacy group CoorDown.

Content Note: Ableism, Assumptions, Erasure, Media Depictions of Disability

 

Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words "Down Syndrome". Keyword: How Do You See Me

Image Description: Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words “Down Syndrome”.

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The video in question is entitled “How Do You See Me?”, starring AnnaRose Rubright, a 19-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, and actress Olivia Wilde:

 

 

I understand what CoorDown was trying to do with “How Do You See Me?” They were using the Olivia Wilde character, “normal”-looking and someone that anyone would expect to make those statements to get people interested, and then there’s the “gotcha”: the narrator isn’t the Olivia Wilde character, like you assumed, but a person with Down Syndrome. How does that change things for you, CoorDown, asks? How do you see AnnaRose? What assumptions do you have about her do you need to challenge?

CoorDown’s intent with “How Do You See Me?” wasn’t bad. But the messaging  is bad. The optics are bad. David Perry was trying to tell a CoorDown representative this yesterday, but the person wasn’t very receptive.

Here are some things about the video that were problematic for me

Disabled People Shouldn’t Be Required to Identify as Non-Disabled

There’s an implication in “How Do You See Me?” that in order for people with Down Syndrome (and, by extension, disabled people in general) to “see” or perceive themselves as people with valued social roles, and a well-rounded personality, and dreams, and a life in the community that brings them fulfilment, they also have to self-perceive as a white, non-disabled person. Not only should it not be necessary in this day and age for disabled people to self-perceive as non-disabled in order to live like a non-person person (period…forget about skin colour), it explains why this video is drawing criticism from disability advocates everywhere.

In “How Do You See Me?” AnnaRose Looks and Sounds Like She’s Waiting to Start Her Own Life

This isn’t the case, by the way. AnnaRose goes to college, works at a physiotherapy clinic, and is a Special Olympics athlete.

Yet, in “How Do You See Me?”, we hear her voice talking about “seeing” herself being and doing a lot of things while we watch Olivia Wilde do them.

As Kim Sauder says on her blog, “Crippled Scholar”:

“The video would have been far more poignant and entirely less infuriating if it had shown the narrator engaging in the activities she described rather than Olivia Wilde.”

Mixed Messages in “How Do You See Me?”

The video posits, presumably unintentionally that it’s better to have Olivia Wilde’s face than it is to have AnnaRose’s face, with the distinguishing features found in most people with Down Syndrome. For a video created for Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day, by a Down Syndrome advocacy group, that sends a rather mixed message to me.  Piggybacking a bit on my last point, it would have been nice to see more of AnnaRose in the video, not so much of “Olivia Wilde plays a girl with Down Syndrome” and “Olivia Wilde has Down Syndrome…”, which seem to be the ways the preview for the video appears on Twitter when it’s shared – without AnnaRose’s name.

Bottom Line

Again, it’s not that I think that CoorDown intended to film something that was problematic.   But there’s an implication “How Do You See Me?” that disabled people should see themselves as non-disabled simply because of an ableist assumption that non-disabled is better. And I can’t get behind that, especially from a video that’s supposed to raise awareness about Down Syndrome.

 

 

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